Scientists have developed flying robots that are able to carry objects weighing up to 40 times their own bodyweight when they’re flying through the air.

FlyCroTugs have been developed by Stanford University to help with search and rescue missions. Because of their extreme strength, they can carry everything, from cameras, to water bottles and anything else required by rescue workers or citizens of hard to reach places. There’s also a choice of different finishes that can be switched according to whether the flying robots will land on a smooth or bumpy surface.

The robots carry or pull objects using adhesive pads on their underside – working in exactly the same way geckos and insects carry objects and food back to their nests. They are also equipped with a cable and either microspines or gecko adhesive. However, they’re completely customisable, so whoever wishes to use them can add their own features to make them specific to where they’ll be used.

“Combining the aerodynamic forces of our aerial vehicle along with interaction forces that we generate with the attachment mechanisms resulted in something that was very mobile, very forceful and micro as well,” said Matthew Estrada, a graduate student at Stanford University in the US.

One of the benefits of FlyCroTugs is that they can fit through narrow openings, so whether they’re needed in places that have been hit by natural disasters or overgrown discovery missions, they’re perfect for the job.

“Wasps can fly rapidly to a piece of food, and then if the thing’s too heavy to take off with, they drag it along the ground. So this was sort of the beginning inspiration for the approach we took,” Stanford University’s Mark Cutkosky said.